Making the Most of Google Docs: Tips & Lesson Ideas

Since attending the Google Teacher Academy in April, I have been trying to learn as much as possible about each Google application. The result? I am realizing how little I actually knew about these tools and how tragically I was underutilizing them! Take Google Docs, for example. I have been using Google Docs for a couple of years, yet I had no idea how much I could actually do with docs personally or with my students.

So, in this blog want to share some information on basic functionality as well as fun ideas for using Google Docs (now Google Drive for some of us) with students.

Back to Basics 

Let’s start with a definition, Google Docs “is a suite of products that lets you create different kinds of online documents, work on them in real time with other people, and store your documents and your other files — all online, and all for free.”

Types of Docs:


Documents are a free online word processor. The ability to share documents and collaborate in real time from various location are the most exciting aspects of Google docs.



Click here to check out “Google Docs in the Classroom” a resource created by CUE and WestEd for Google. Note: The screen shot below is taken from this great resource.


“Collect RSVPs, run a survey, or quickly create a team roster with a simple online form. Then check out the results, neatly organized in a Google spreadsheet.”

Use forms to: 

– Collect student data & get to know them better

– Create rubrics & quick assessments

– Support peer and self assessments

– Collect data that can be graphed for math practice

 – Allow students to create practice tests for each other (test prep)

 – Collect info and/or feedback from parents at Back-to-School Night


“More than just columns and rows. Don’t just make a spreadsheet; share it to collaborate and stay organized together.”

Note: This spreadsheet is the back end of my “1st Day Survey” form which collects and organizes all the information I have requested.

Use spreadsheets to: 

– Create an online grade book

– Take attendance

– Organize contact information for parents and students

– Keep track of assignments – Completed? Incomplete? Missing?

– Collect data that can be analyzed

– Send feedback via email instantly using scripts

When using spreadsheets, it is helpful to explore scripts. Scripting “is a programming language that supports the writing of scripts, programs written for a software environment that automate the execution of tasks.” Warning: This is a more tech savvy endeavor. That said, anyone using spreadsheets to collect data, scripts can save you a ton of time. There are 2 scripts I recommend exploring:

1. Flubaroo – Allows a teacher to grade a collection of data on a spreadsheet in one step easily collecting student data. This way students can complete a quiz or homework assignment on a live Google form, then that data is collected in a spreadsheet where it can graded with the Flubaroo script!

2. ValMerge – Makes it possible to merge spreadsheet data with a document template to send individual emails to all the email addresses in a data sheet. Alice Keeler is a spreadsheet expert and has written a blog worth checking out – “Using ValMerge – Sending.”


Create power point style presentations collaboratively. Students can include animations, drawings, transitions, and choose from a variety of themes. During the creation stage, students can use the comment feature to discuss work and they never need to worry about saving their work as this is done automatically.


Presentations can be easily published to a unique URL to be shared.

Use presentations to: 

– Allow students to become “experts” on a topic and share what they have learned

– Create a multimedia product demonstrating the outcome of project/group work

– Introduce & review concepts by creating informational slides and/or animated flashcards

– Design creative projects as a group – multimedia mashups, scrapbooks, storybooks, and/or comics


Add color to documents, presentations, and websites with easy to create charts and diagrams.

Use Drawing to: 

– Draw live in front of the class to demonstrate concepts if you have a smart board

– Use  to create charts, venn diagrams, mind maps, idea clusters

– Visual brainstorms

– Design collages or online posters

– Create book covers for favorite novels

– Storyboard

I encourage other educators using Google docs to post a comment to add to this list of ideas. Share your ideas about how we can use these tools with our students to foster creativity, collaboration, communication and innovation!


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56 Responses to Making the Most of Google Docs: Tips & Lesson Ideas

  1. Kelly says:

    I’ve had students who left early for vacation use the built in chat feature to collaborate live with their groups, from other states!

  2. DENnis Grice says:

    Thanks for this creating this. Google Docs (or perhaps I should call it “Google Drive” now) will be replacing MSOffice in our Middle School next Fall. This will be a valuable resource for our teachers and students.

    • Catlin says:

      Thank you, Dennis.

      I’m glad this will be a useful resource for your teachers and students. I also plan to share it with my students in fall.


      • BSanti says:

        My only concern is ‘what happens when Google is down?’ Down because of local technology issues or down on Google’s end of it. Technology is really great until it fails.

        • There is always the chance that technology will not work as expected. I try to be flexible! When I hit a bump, I try to model what it looks like to troubleshoot and not freak out. It’s important for students to see their teachers hit bumps and work through them.


  3. Penny says:

    Great post, great blog. My students are using docs (docs and spreadsheets) in a group project of 20 students, by sharing a collection (folder) they have access to all the documents.
    Penny GTASYD ’11

    • Catlin says:

      Hi Penny,

      I also love that you can share an entire folder with a group of students! Now I don’t have to make tons of copies or worry about students losing important papers.


  4. Hi Caitlin,

    this is excellent – thanks so much for posting it. I’ve recently discovered the joys of forms, and so far a couple of ideas we’ve had is to:

    1 – present some material to the class, and then set them a small group activity. Use a Form to structure the activity and get them to log the results of the activity straight into the form. Then do a plenary and call up the spreadsheet with all their responses on the data projector and talk their responses through with them. I tried this recently with some Archaeology Masters students doing a project about creating digital assets to help present heritage sites and it worked nicely.

    2 – A bit of a no brainer variant of 1 perhaps – for a lab class, get students to do analysis of different samples form an experiment (again we’re looking at archaeology here as it turns out). Again get the students to log their findings directly into a form. Apart from then being able to do the above, this time being able to produce charts and do mathematical analysis (it’s achaeometallurgy so they come up with numbers), it should actually streamline the whole process of merging the data from the diferent samples in the class, which can be a bit logistically messy.

    all the best and thanks again for your tips!

    • Catlin says:

      Thank you, Graham, for sharing the ways you are using forms. I, too, love forms! It is so nice to be able to collect large amounts of information from a variety of students then have it appear neatly on a spreadsheet. I really like the idea of allowing groups to tackle questions and activities using the form then reviewing the class’s answers using the spreadsheets. It must make it so clear who is on track and where you need to jump in to support students. I can imagine using this same strategy for English by allowing pairs or small groups to answer questions about a text then review them as a class to highlight strong examples, clarify questions, etc.


  5. Wow! A very nice post all about Google Docs. I highly recommend this article to those who are very beginners to Google Docs. I suggest you to add something more about Collaboration of Documents with special attention on assigning and changing permissions of each individuals. Thanks again, Catlin!

    • Catlin says:

      Thank you. That is a great suggestion to add more about collaboration. I will put this on my list for a future blog post all about collaboration with Google Apps!


  6. Lynne says:

    This is awesome! A bit behind the times I guess, I’m just getting started with Google Docs (Drive) and have been exploring this summer – this will be very helpful and a huge time saver! Thank You for putting it together and sharing 🙂

  7. Linda Tietjen says:

    Hi, Catlin. Just wanted to ask your permission to pin some of your blog posts to my Pinterest board about Google. I am interested in your Google_Docs posts.

    Thank you.

    Linda Tietjen
    Auraria Library
    Denver, Colorado

  8. Diane Mittler says:

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on using Google Docs with younger students in the early elementary grades. We are struggling to meet requirements to get them each set up on an email account and to sign them up for Google Docs (since they are not yet 13). We’d appreciate any ideas, suggestions or thoughts!

    • Catlin says:

      Hi Diane,

      I realize getting younger students on Google requires a signed release. I actually have my high school parents sign off too just for good measure. It is helpful if teachers are able to contact parents directly via email, a letter home, or face-to-face at Back-to-School Night to discuss the benefits of using Google. When parents realize the apps are free and they no longer have to worry about buying expensive programs and updating versions, most are thrilled. I also stress the convenience of working from any computer that has internet access and eliminating the need for lots of printed pages.

      I believe younger students could absolutely use Google Docs. It great for embedding images to spark conversations, facilitating debates, and teaching students how to work together on creative projects. If I was working with upper elementary, I would want to do a lot together in a computer lab or in a classroom with computers to scaffold the process of navigating the Docs. Drawing could be a very useful tool for Venn diagrams, timelines, storyboarding, etc.

      Good luck.


  9. Audrey says:

    This was extremely helpful to me. I’ve been using docs/drive for a year and realized after reading this, that I was completely underutilizing all of the features. Can’t wait to dive in deeper!

    • Catlin says:

      I’m glad the blog was helpful. I still feel like I am underutilizing Docs/Drive, but I’m learning more each day. Good luck!

  10. kris says:

    This is a very useful article especially since this is my first time using this tool.

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  12. Silvia says:

    This was quite a great read and learn for me. Our main challenge over here in Cameroon is the internet speed. But this would be a great tool for our schools here. How do we beat the real time sharing part given our poor internet speeds?

  13. Becky says:

    Thank you so much for this! I use Docs with my colleagues but never even thought about using it for my students. I’m not sure why I didn’t think of doing this! It will certainly make collaboration much easier for my students.

    • Catlin says:

      You are so welcome, Becky!

      I am not sure how I would manage with 170 students if we were not using Google docs.

      Good luck implementing with students.


  14. Alanna says:

    All google apps you’ve mentioned are great. I will add that I like to use forms for entry and exit slips. I wanted to mention however that for items like grades or docs that would contain any information about student scheduling, FOIP laws would prohibit us from using google apps because of the privacy issues.

  15. Umaru Garbe says:

    Dear Catlin,

    I am also a language teacher who is missing a lot in respect to proper uses of technology in language class. Thanks for the blog.

  16. Tom says:

    I use drive for a ton of student assignments and activities; collaborative teams, collaborative novels, even using forms for online classroom election results. A reasonable learning curve, fun, and eventually saves a lot of time and paper, plus an invaluable lesson on collaborating online for the kids.


  17. xuan nguyen says:

    I like your blog so much! I had used Google presentation for a collaborative project, and I plan to explore forms and other features as well.
    Thank you so much! I am glad I had found your posting!


  18. Scott says:

    Hi Catlin, Although I am not an instructor, I am using Google Docs exclusively as my wife and I bought Chromebooks for Christmas last year. I am also a grad student and am trying to use Docs for all papers. As an English person, I know you must have some areas where there are frustrations regarding formatting, or perhaps that is just me. Have you ran across any helpful sites in dealing with APA formatting regarding Docs? For instance, a separate header from the first page and eliminating page numbering on the first page. I have looked around for a good helpful site, but so far have not found any. Great information on your page however!

  19. Sarono says:

    I am glad to read your post.Can use Google-form to design an online test, how it works for multiple choice? thanks

  20. stacy says:

    Catlin, this is amazing. Would you mind if I shared it with my students by placing a link to your page on my school website?


  21. Albert Johnson says:

    Hello Caitlin,

    Thank you for the wonderful posting on Google Docs. I am a computer lab teacher at a middle school in Chicago, Illinois, and I have been requested to do a unit plan on Google Docs. I have gathered my information on Google Docs, however, I was wondering if you have created, or know of a source that you can recommend to me that has already created a 4-5 week Unit Plan on Google Docs?

    Thank you,
    Albert Johnson

  22. Albert Johnson says:

    Do you have a 4-5 week unit plan for google docs?

    • Hello Albert,

      No, I don’t have a unit specific to teaching students how to use Google docs. My instruction on how to use Google docs is embedded into everything we do at the start of the year. I create “how to” video tutorials that I post to my YouTube channel then walk them through the basics when I can get us into the computer lab.

      Sorry, I can’t be of more help!


  23. Emily says:


    Have you considered using a google doc to post students missed work from an absence? I typically write them lists on post-its, but this year I have had an issue with those going “missing” and students claiming to the parent that they were uninformed. Do you see this working? I am a novice on google docs, so any imput would be appreciated. Thanks!

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  26. Joanne Shawhan says:

    While Google Drive has great features, I am concerned about the confidential of the information posted. to put it another way, does Google mine the posting for information about the users.

    • Hi Joanne,

      You would need to contact Google to find out if they mine for information in Google Drive. I realize they have access to all of my information, but I’ve never worried that information would be misused. If you are concerned, I’d definitely follow up with them.

      Take care.


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  34. shazia jaffri says:

    Hi! Catlin,
    I use Google Docs to teach English language and literature to grade two students. They have become very independent in using most of the option of toolbars now. May be it seems very childish to you, but I initially started Google Docs for collaborative work just because naming and then saving documents is easier while working on Google docs than the Ms. Words. After that I used it for different purpose but still find myself as a novice user. I have started collaborating with my colleagues using Google docs and during these winter breaks we all do unit planning on a joint document collaboratively. But for sure, my students (average age 7.5) learn it quickly and even use keys to copy/cut/paste efficiently.

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  36. Donna Kasprowicz says:

    Dear Catlin,
    I love your comment about how you have tragically underutilized google drive. I have also used it for a few years and had no idea of all of the capabilities. School is about to begin and will begin by giving lessons on google drive to my students. Teaching it will assist me as well.
    Thank you so much,

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